Over the past two decades thousands of people have auditioned to be the next “American Idol,” but only 17 have won. (Season 18 premieres this Sunday on ABC.) While some winners came and went from our collective memories, these 10 champions will always stick in our minds. Tour our “American Idol” photo gallery above highlighting the Top 10 winners we love the most, ranked from worst to best. Does your #1 pick match ours?
The original “American Idol” winner (and still the best, according to many fans) is of course Kelly Clarkson. She prevailed over runner-up Justin Guarini on September 4, 2002 during the show’s raw first season. Throughout her time on the reality TV show, Kelly heard nothing but praises from judges Paula Abdul, Simon Cowell and Randy Jackson. Early on many considered Kelly and Tamyra Gray to be the favorites to win, but when Tamyra was shockingly eliminated in the Top 4 it was Kelly’s competition to lose.
In the years since the show wrapped, Kelly has found great success on the awards circuit. She won three Grammys for “Stronger” (2012), “Since U Been Gone” (2005) and “Breakaway” (2005), two MTV Video Music Awards for “Because of You” (2006) and “Since U Been Gone” (2005) and recently received a Critics’ Choice nomination for her talk show “The Kelly Clarkson Show” (2020). Kelly joined up with rival singing show “The Voice” in 2018 where she has since coached three artists to victories.
The most recent “Idol” champ is Laine Hardy, who beat out Alejandro Aranda and Madison VanDenburg in the nail-biting Season 17 finale last May. While it seemed evident judges Katy Perry, Luke Bryan and Lionel Richie wanted Alejandro to win, America instead opted to “party with the Hardy,” aka the guitar-wielding 18-year-old. Laine’s trio of of finale performances were “Home,” “Jambalaya (On the Bayou)” and “Bring It on Home to Me.”
Interestingly, this wasn’t Laine’s first time on “American Idol.” He first tried out on Season 16 (the first to air on ABC with the current judges), but he wasn’t quite ready and he ended up being eliminated prior to the live rounds. When he returned last year, Laine didn’t plan on auditioning, but the judges forced him to after he accompanied a friend to her audition. Something tells us he doesn’t regret that decision.